Anything but Easy: Lonnie Walker’s Next Chapter

After almost a decade-long hiatus, the Raleigh rock band has a new album. Frontman Brian Corum shares its origins and what happened in the meantime.
by David Menconi | photography by Eamon Queeney

It’s been nine long years since the Raleigh rock band Lonnie Walker released new music, the sort of lengthy hiatus that usually turns out to be permanent. There were all the usual travails that various members had to contend with: health and life matters; an album recorded and scrapped; and the pandemic shutdown.

But the main reason for such a long gap was singer/guitarist/frontman Brian Corum falling into a black hole of heroin addiction. He was homeless for an extended period of time, during which it wasn’t clear if he’d ever make music again.

But things are on the upswing. Corum has been clean and sober for about five years now, and somehow Lonnie Walker has kept the same lineup of guitarist Eric Hill, drummer Raymond Finn, keyboardist Justin Flythe and bassist Mike Robinson alongside him. And the new Lonnie Walker album, Easy Easy Easy Easy (out July 12 on Sleepy Cat Records), is spectacular. It’s an ironic title, because getting it into the world has been anything but easy.

Catchy and loose-limbed, it’s like a cross between Bob Dylan’s surreal mid-1960s verbosity and the angular push-pull of ’90s alternative bands like Pavement or Modest Mouse. Easy Easy Easy Easy is also as harrowing as it is listenable. That especially goes for “Funny Feelin’,” a rollicking account of withdrawal in which Corum declares he’s “keepin’ it together best I can” before solemnly concluding, “even when surrounded by your friends and family whispering condolences, you die alone.”  Dark stuff.

 Raymond Finn

“It is,” Corum agrees. “The darkness is not all over the album, but certainly in some songs, especially that one. I didn’t start that one thinking it would turn into my own experience trying to get clean. But… it did.”

Lonnie Walker originally formed not quite 20 years ago in Greenville, where Corum was earning a photography degree from East Carolina University. Early on, their shows were raucous and even multimedia affairs, including an onstage visual artist who would paint murals behind the band as they played.

The group’s 2009 debut These Times Old Times showed abundant promise, roots rock with a quirky pulse. But that was around the time Corum began slipping into drug use out of curiosity, thinking he could control it.

He started with opioids, turning to heroin when those became harder to get. Soon he had a full-blown habit. Addiction would be the subject of various songs on Lonnie Walker’s second album, 2015’s Earth Canals.

“I started out thinking I was using them for fun,” Corum says. “Early on, I thought they made me feel like a better version of myself. But they made finishing things so hard. Being in that state was like a full-time job. So that was the main cause for the pause, the year and a half I spent in a homeless shelter.”

Corum says he “would have kicked myself out of a band a long time ago,” and he struggled with going in and out of rehab. There was a several-year period of “rudderless show-playing” when Corum was well enough to play, says Hill, his Lonnie Walker bandmate of longest standing. 

After sobriety finally took hold, Corum was ready to get back at it, and he had some of the best songs he’d ever written. But getting them recorded was a difficult process, in which they scrapped an entire version of the album.

“That first version just didn’t have the vibe we were looking for,” says Hill. “We tried to do this complex piecing together of tracks and it turned into a humongous fiasco. But the second one is my favorite thing we’ve ever done. All live, everybody playing in the same room at the same time.”

Mike Robinson

Highlights of the new album include “Natural Lady,” which might be the most overt love song Corum has ever written, and the zippy kiss-off “Pissin’ Off the Scene.” And for groove and feel, the droning psychedelic tones of “Cool Sparkling Water” can’t be beat.

“That one’s kind of a sober psychedelic song that gets back to the essence of life, which is water,” says Corum. “It sounds like it could be an LSD trip. I was almost embarrassed to show that one to the band because it’s just a drone where I was hitting E on the bass over and over. But everyone liked it. We agreed not to play it all the way through until recording because we didn’t want it to get too tight, lose the essence.”

Brian Corum

With Easy Easy Easy Easy coming out into the world in July, Lonnie Walker will probably spend some time on the road this year. Offstage, Corum keeps busy running Rabbit Press, a custom screenprinting company (a process he learned while studying photography). He also works with The Healing Place, a Raleigh rehab center, trying to help get people on the same path he’s been on.

“We were really worried about Brian for a long, long time,” says Hill. “I don’t want to inflate his ego, but I’m super proud of him.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2024 issue of WALTER magazine.